First Appearance or Magistrate Hearings
After you’re arrested for a first or subsequent offense, you’ll go before a judge to be seen at a first appearance or magistrate hearing. At the first appearance, the judge will let you know what the charges against you are and make a probable cause determination. While it happens quickly, a first appearance can have an impact on the outcome of your case. It may be important to retain a skillful Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney to represent you at your first appearance.First Appearance or Magistrate Hearings
Under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.130, every arrested person in Florida should be taken in front of a judicial officer within 24 hours of arrest either in person or by electronic audiovisual device. An official record of the proceedings should be kept.
Under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.111(a), a person is entitled to appointment of counsel once they are formally charged, either as soon as feasible after being taken into custody or at the first appearance, whichever comes first. Sometimes people don’t realize that what happens at the first appearance may have consequences for later stages of a criminal proceeding and think they can get by without an attorney, or will just go along with a public defender. However, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate the justice system from the earliest stages of your case, and it is wise to have representation at your first appearance.
When you have an attorney at the first appearance, the state is prevented from taking certain unilateral actions to strengthen its case. For example, the prosecution won’t be able to use statements against you that you made to someone who the state had set up as a jailhouse informant.Pretrial Release
Once you’re informed of the charges against you, pretrial release conditions may be set under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.130(d). Usually defendants come into first appearance court with a bond set from a standard bond schedule or through a judge who’s signed a warrant for their arrest.
If a different judge has set your bond, a magistrate may consider appropriate conditions for your pretrial release, so long as the earlier-acting judge didn’t specifically stop him from doing so. Factors that may go into whether you get bond and how much it’s for include the nature of the criminal charges against you, your financial resources, and whether you have ties to the community.
There are slightly different rules for domestic violence first appearances. If you’re arrested for domestic violence, you’ll be held in custody until you’re brought before the court for admittance to bail under Chapter 903. The magistrate setting bond is supposed to set whatever conditions will help make sure the victim is safe, the victim’s children are safe, and anybody else who is believed to be in danger is safe.Probable Cause
A first appearance magistrate in Florida should also determine if there’s probable cause to keep you in custody. Under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.133(a)(1), if you’re in custody and the necessary proof is available at the time of the first appearance, the court should make a probable cause determination within 48 hours of your arrest. Often the magistrate makes this determination simply by looking at the affidavit on which you were arrested. However, if probable cause doesn’t appear there, the state is afforded the opportunity to give the court more evidence.
When there’s a determination there was no probable cause, the court will release you on your own recognizance. This means you’re trusted to come back for future court dates, not that the judge dismisses your case.Guilty Pleas for Misdemeanors
Additionally, the first appearance magistrate is supposed to accept guilty pleas for misdemeanor charges like disorderly offenses. While you may be tempted to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, you should know that this may have adverse consequences for you down the road if you are charged with a crime again.Fort Lauderdale Attorney for Criminal Defense
If you are concerned about your first appearance or magistrate hearing in Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere in Broward County, you can discuss your situation with Evan Hoffman of the Hoffman Firm. Mr. Hoffman is a seasoned criminal defense lawyer who can closely examine your case to develop a strategy. We represent clients in areas like Plantation, Pembroke Pines, Davie, Sunrise, and Deerfield Beach. For a free consultation, contact us at (954) 524-4474 or via our online form.